Practical Mindfulness for Youth and Families

Mindfulness is the practice of present centered non-judgmental attention.  It is a very practical skill that can be very useful for young people as way of coping with emotions and managing their attention.

In the practice of mindfulness, people often get lost in their thoughts and they are directed to simply return to their breath, an anchor point.  Some specific anchor questions may help in finding grounding in the present moment.

For example:

“What am I doing right now?”

“Where is my focus right now?”

“What is this feeling I am experiencing right now?

These question positions the mind as an observer to the experience and one can simply be curious about what comes up.  The breath is an important partner to the action of observing that helps center and ground oneself back to the body.

At this point after becoming aware of the activity of thoughts and using breath to anchor, one can ask “Where would I like my attention to be?”  This sets an intention for one’s awareness moving forward and allows for focus.

“What am I trying to create right now?” Might be another question that anchors focus.

Children and youth who struggle with their attention have such rapidly shifting thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions that they often describe the feeling of being stuck in a tornado.  Having specific questions to help anchor and refocus them is a way for them to practice mastering their attention.

One helpful practice is for children/youth to imagine a situation where they are more able to focus and to have them describe what they do in those situations.  I’ve had a youth describe to me that when they are playing hockey everything gets quiet and peaceful, their eyes are straight ahead, they focus on exactly the next thing they need to do.

From here, they develop their own strategies for how to focus their mind that are based on their experience. This is much more powerful than an adult dictating to them 10 steps to better focus.

When it comes to self-perception thoughts like “I’m worthless.” or “You’re better than me.” It is very helpful to educate children/teens about the nature of thoughts. That thoughts are not facts. That there’s a difference between having a thought and being a thought.  This takes a lot of practice and a lot of support.  It is also helpful if parents can model this as well.

Encourage your child to practice observing their thoughts and grounding themselves in breath everyday for just 1 minute at a time. One helpful image that I come back to over and over again that was given to me by a Buddhist Monk is this:

It’s a picture of a man meditating on the mountain. The clouds represent thoughts and a feelings. A person can come to identify with the thoughts and grab at them, but they are not a part of him and therefore grasping at them is useless.  The image symbolizes the practice of not getting overly attached to one’s thoughts and feelings and instead letting them pass by peacefully.

The idea of practical mindfulness is to try to use the principles of mindfulness in the everyday moments of our lives and not to segregate mindfulness practice only at a time in the morning sitting on seat cushion.  

Where is your focus now as this article comes to an end? Perhaps you can let yourself take one mindful breath before you transition to the next thing.